Pedagogy First During Learn Time

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Santanu Vasant of City University's LeAD team blogs on making the most of your teaching and learning spaces.

You can read more from the LeAD team and Santanu on the Learning at City blog.

Last September, when I blog swapped with Dr Emma Kennedy, I wrote about the peculiar practice of educational development. I have been thinking for the past week what the focus of my blog post this year should be. I was inspired by a keynote talk from Professor Peter Goodyear, a British academic now based at the University of Sydney, at the Association of Learning Technology in Liverpool, which I attended last week. His talk was on ‘Shaping Learning Spaces’ but actually it was on what and how the learners learn, how they actually use technologies in the physical spaces we design for them, during what he called ‘learn time’, the time when you stop talking and they do something in any given learning space.

I have been discussing topics around this area – instructional design, the design of materials, dual coding, cognitive load theory with colleagues for the past year at work and read several short articles and blog posts around these topics. What surprises me is how many educational development professionals I know that still don’t cover the work I have linked to above in any PGCert or equivalent courses, despite it being well known and well researched.  

If staff developers are not aware of this research or acknowledge its existence then it’s no wonder that students report that they only get PowerPoints in a VLE, as LSE highlight in their LSE 2020 report.

As we approach the start of the academic year, this blog post highlights some some simple things teaching staff in Universities can do before, during and after a lecture to make their teaching more varied.


Firstly, give your students PowerPoints in advance, this means those that need them due to specific learning difficulties, but all others learners benefit too. Some lecturers worry their students won’t come to class. A tip from a lecturer I had, who said, leave blanks that you will only give in lectures and make your delivery of the content interesting, otherwise they will get as much from slides as they would if they listened to you reading those slides.

Giving these resources prior to the lecture, help learners during the lecture in terms of dual coding, the idea that presenting information in visual and verbal form means the learner can remember it in two ways.

Secondly, if you have a little more time, use infographics if appropriate to your discipline. There are several tools such PiktoChart, Canva and Venngage.  

Finally, use Lecture Capture or record some short pre-lecture videos on key concepts for each lecture, something like OfficeMix (a free plugin for PowerPoint is a very easy to use tool) or an app based solution such as Explain Everything (£10).

If you have a lot of time or are interested in creating highly interactive resources alongside your PowerPoint and PDF ones, why not try the web-based authoring tool H5P which you can take the embed code and put into whichever VLE you are using. The interactive elements will work on any device.

During the Lecture

Use a web based polling tool such as Poll Everywhere or Mentimeter at the start of the lecture. This focused use of the tool avoids the multitasking, which isn’t helpful to deep learning. Using activities or breaks in the lecture to ask questions is also important and benefical to learning, as Professor Eric Mazur advocates.

If you have recorded and asked students to watch their recordings pre-lecture, then you can get students to do more group work activities, examine case studies and develop their critical thinking, with you in the class. The lecturer’s role does change here, but it’s still very valuable, guiding the learner in what Peter Goodyear refers to in his talk at the Association for Learning Technology, 2017 as ‘learn time’.     

If they are notetaking in class, then maybe ask them to use a pen and paper, as this blog synthesising the work of Mueller, P. A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014) comments on. In short, the pen and paper approach is less distracting, gets the students to think about what is important, so a level of synthesis is happening in the brain before the hand writes the note, as opposed to the transcription nature of the tablet or laptop used. You could argue that having notes in paper form are not good for long term storage / recall? Why not get your students to summarise their notes in electronic on a weekend, this is good academic practice anyway.

After the lecture

A simple activity after a lecture is a discussion forum, but you need to either be in the forum replying to posts or assign students or teaching assistants (if you have them) to go into the forum of a module, reply and steer the discussion. You could make this 5% of your module mark, to encourage students to take part. What’s important here is that students use technologies available to them to continue learning beyond the lecture or seminar you have delivered.

If you have a little more time, think of developing a series of short quizzes every week, which check student’s understanding. They can re-watch your pre-lecture or Lecture Capture recordings to help them. Again, add 5-10% of your module mark to them, so you are likely to get more students doing them. If you check their results each week, you’ll see the ones that are not doing well, who you can then email.

Remember it’s just one of you and lots of them, so use tools in the VLE and elsewhere to make life easier for yourself.

This blog post was written as part of the HE Blog Swap – for more information, please see #HEBlogSwap on Twitter.